Saturday, May 2, 2009

Geocities Bites the Dust

Earlier this week Yahoo announced that they will be shutting down GeoCities, the web hosting service which has been in existence since 1994. In a note on the GeoCities web site Yahoo announced that new GeoCities would no longer be available. They also announced that they had decided to close GeoCities and that further details would be provided this summer. Of course, the disappearance of GeoCities means that numerous web sites on various topics, fan sites, and so on will simply disappear sometime this summer.

In many ways the imminent closure of GeoCities is very sad. When GeoCities opened there were not many web hosting services and free web hosting services were largely unknown. GeoCities was also significant for another reason. When it first opened GeoCities was organised into "neighbourhoods" into which users would place their web sites. Every user had his or her own profile with whatever information they wished to provide. GeoCities also had bulletin boards, chat, email, and other community oriented features. In some respects this is very similar to the social networking sites of today. Quite simply, GeoCities could be considered a forerunner of MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking sites.

David Bohnett and John Rezner founded GeoCities in late 1994 as Beverly Hills Internet (BHI). By July 1995 the service had grown so large that even more neighbourhoods were added. On December 15, 1995 what had been called BHI now became known as GeoCities. GeoCities continued to grow over the next few years. In May 1997 GeoCities began placing advertisements on its web sites. By June 1997 it was the fifth most popular site on the Web. GeoCities hit its millionth user in October 1997. It was in August 1998 that GeoCities became a public company, listed on NASDAQ.

It was in 1999 that something occurred which would change GeoCities forever. Yahoo bought the web hosting service for $3.57 billion. At the time it was the third most popular site on the Web. Yahoo also made drastic changes to GeoCities. Over time Yahoo did away with the neighbourhoods, using instead URL consisting of http;// and the member's name. They also did away with the bulletin boards, chat, and other communal features of GeoCities. In 2001 Yahoo introduced a pay web hosting service for GeoCities, while at the same time limiting bandwidth and data transfer for free sites to 4 GB. With these changes GeoCities began a downhill slide, with many users simply abandoning their GeoCities pages.

GeoCities was historic as one of the first free web hosting services. And as I pointed out, it was also a forerunner of the social networking sites of today. Indeed, in an article in the Business Standard entitled "Yahoo Writes Geocities' Obituary," Indian internet and cyber security expert Vijay Mukhi noted that GeoCities was a missed opportunity for Yahoo, saying "They could have made it a Facebook if they wanted." Speaking for myself, I think it would have taken very little to have turned GeoCities into both a web hosting service and a social networking site. It is sad enough that many good web pages, devoted to everything from rock bands to movie stars, will disappear. The fact that Yahoo could have made GeoCities even more successful than it was as an early social networking site makes it even sadder.

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